Is hiring for culture taking a backseat to hiring for skills?

If the most skilled person available for a position your organization needs to fill is not a culture fit — everyone knows it doesn’t matter how skilled he or she is. Who wants the expensive headache of hiring a culture misfit?

Competence and work ethic are difficult to determine from an interview, so a recruiter gauges those principles by asking the candidate’s references whether the potential employee possesses those qualities. But integrity and professionalism are often obvious on first impression.



When a financial services marketing director arrived in the company’s lobby to greet a young woman who was interviewing for a position, the director found the candidate engrossed in the screen of her smart phone. “Just a sec,” the candidate told her would-be-boss. “I’m in the middle of a message.” The marketing director interviewed the young woman but did not hire her. And she told her why. Another company might hire her, but not this one. Says the marketing director: “If I took her to an industry meeting and she acted like that, my peers would say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.'”

A manager who ignores blatant symptoms of an unprofessional attitude is accountable for that new hire’s predictably laissez-faire behavior on the job. Someone who brushes off the greeting of a potential employer by telling her to “wait a minute” while she attends to personal business either does not intend to land that job or doesn’t care one way or the other.

If it’s important to hire associates with integrity, ask them about it during the job interview. Integrity can be learned, or it can be innate. Either way, you can find out if it’s part of an applicant’s nature before you offer a job.

Here are two questions whose answers can reveal a job candidate’s level of integrity:
• When in your life have you made a decision that you’re proud of – when nobody was looking?
• Which five adjectives best describe your character?


In addition to the culture fit you are looking for in a candidate, make sure you are telling the truth about what the culture is and what you really want. How would you respond to the following:

When you are working to meet a deadline and you don’t have what you need from others even though you have been clear, do you hold them accountable, let it go because you know they are busy, or create an environment of renegotiation when timelines can’t be met?

When someone does not provide you with the quality of work you expect, do you fix it and meet your deadline or give it back to him or her to fix even if it means missing a deadline?

What are the top three things you do to assist your direct reports to grow and develop?


At the end of the day know yourself and know your culture. Both you and the applicants would do well to truthfully explore what makes for the best work environment before hiring. Here are a few additional questions for both of you to answer to further ensure a match.

What about a work environment provides you with the most job satisfaction?

What kind of reward or recognition contributes most to you feeling professionally successful?

What conditions create an atmosphere that lets you thrive? (i.e. a lot going on, quiet, changing location a lot, staying in one place, etc.)

Of course a skills match for an open position cannot be overlooked. But if you had a choice of skill over attitude and a culture fit is vital would you select a less skilled person to get the right culture fit? It is a great conversation to have at the leadership level or in your department so everyone owns the results of finding the best fit for the job.

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